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Council reminds tenants and landlords of the importance of HMO licensing

Date: 23 Feb 2024


Belfast City Council is reminding prospective tenants about the importance of making sure their next shared rental is licensed as a house of multiple occupancy (HMO).

Under current regulations, all HMOs in the Belfast area must be licensed by the council to help make sure they are safe, good quality and well managed. 

An HMO is defined as living accommodation which is the main residence for three or more people from more than two different households, where at least one person pays the rent. 

Since 2019, all landlords who operate an HMO must have a licence from their local council to continue renting it to multiple tenants (unless a temporary exemption notice is in effect). 

Landlords must also have a valid licence for each individual HMO they own.

“If you’re thinking about a new rental with other people, whether as a student or otherwise, it’s important that you check that any potential options have been licensed as HMOs,” said Councillor Gary McKeown, Chair of Belfast City Council’s Licensing Committee. 

“Having a valid HMO licence means that the property you’re renting has been assessed by the council, with suitable facilities for the number of people living within it. 
“It is important that people have safe, secure and comfortable accommodation and the licensing process for HMOs helps ensure that those properties which fall into this category meet certain criteria and that landlords fulfil their obligations to their tenants. And, if they don’t, it provides a way to report this.

“Checking if a property is licensed is easy and free to do – just visit the council’s website at and enter the address in the HMO licence register.”

Local councils assumed responsibility for the licensing of HMOs in 2019 when the Houses in Multiple Occupation Act (NI) 2016 came into effect. Belfast City Council’s NIHMO Unit now administers the regulation of HMOs on behalf of all 11 councils. 

Under the regulations, landlords who already hold an HMO licence must re-apply before their existing licence expires. If they don’t, it will be treated as a new application when it is comes before elected members for consideration at the council’s Licensing Committee. 

Councils also have the option of including additional conditions when granting an HMO licence. They are responsible for making sure any conditions are met during the lifetime of an HMO licence and have powers to take enforcement action in specific circumstances. 

“As a council, we also want to make sure landlords are clear on what they need to do to comply with the regulations and manage their property responsibly,” said Councillor McKeown. 

“The council’s website provides a step-by-step guide to applying for an HMO licence, whether it’s a renewal or a new application, along with details of the fees to be paid and the documents required. 

“The council has clearly set out the process involved in deciding whether to grant a licence - including assessing the proposed management arrangements for a property, looking at how many HMOs are already in place in an area to prevent over-provision and making sure the relevant building control and planning approvals are in place – and council officers have also developed guidance to help landlords with managing anti-social behaviour.”

In Belfast, the council’s Local Development Plan clearly states that, within designated Housing Management Areas (HMAs), planning permission will only be granted for HMOs and/or flats/apartments where the total number of HMOs and flats/apartments combined would not, as a result, exceed 20% of all dwelling units within an HMA. 

Outside of designated HMAs, planning permission will only be granted for HMOs where the number of HMOs would not, as a result, exceed 10% of all dwelling units on that road or street.

Landlords and tenants seeking any further advice around HMOs can contact the council’s NIHMO Unit directly on 028 9027 0414 or email

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